Tag Archives: Homesick

Called and Keeping Place: Two Very Short Book Reviews

This month I simultaneously listened to Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home and paged through Ryan Pemberton’s Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again. It was a fascinating combo platter. Both Michel and Pemberton found themselves far from their places of origin and longing for home. Both explore the geographical cost of discipleship. Both use story to tease out theology. And both were terrific.

Having just returned from Oxford (Pemberton’s stomping ground) and having so recently published a book with the working title “Homesick” (ultimately Thirty Thousand Days), I couldn’t not read either of these books. Indeed, there were so many familiar moments in each one that a fly on the wall might have heard me yelp in recognition.

Here is a teaser for each, for those of you looking for your next good read. Be sure to check out the links to their respective websites, too.

keeping-place-11Keeping Place.  As one who is demonstrably preoccupied with Home and homesickness, I loved this book. Michel’s depth of historical study and the fascinating connections she makes between ideas and moments in time are so impressive. She writes like a scholar but not necessarily for scholars—she teases out universal themes and relates them to all of us. I listened to the audio version, so there is much I did not catch (a hazard of audio books), but I enjoyed it enough to covet a paper copy for my shelf, one to dog-ear and underline. From her early discussion of “nostalgia” (did you know homesickness was once considered a medical condition?) to her closing chapter on our forever Home, this is a great exploration of the human condition.

Called by Ryan J. PembertonCalled.  Fast paced, thought provoking, entertaining, and scattered throughout with great nuggets. Pemberton is a great storyteller, and a very likable protagonist. You have the feeling he and his wife would make great friends. There are plenty of Lewis stories for Narnia lovers, publishing misadventures for aspiring authors, and reflections on discerning God’s will for anyone. Another one to keep and refer back to (or re-read) in the future, whenever the idea of following God in crazy directions is daunting and the way forward is unclear.


Imagine you slept last night with the window cracked, and this morning as the sky grew light, you heard a persistent bird on a tree branch outside. It must have been a new bird in the neighborhood, because it was a tune you hadn’t heard, one haunting melody whistled again and again. Imagine you got up and showered, still with that simple tune floating around in your head, but as soon as you started the car and the radio came to life, there it was again: the exact same notes. Weird, right? But then imagine you arrived at work, and the person in the next cubicle was humming it. And then your neighbor’s phone. And a barista, whistling it three hours later. Twilight Zone, for sure.

Sometimes I have that sensation. Multiple conversations with different people revert back to the same theme. Online chatter swirls around it. Cultural events echo it once more.

Everything is connected.

This week my déjà vu comes in the haunting song of fractured identity. I hear it in individuals: in the broken heart of my young anorexic friend and the lament of an uprooted divorcé. I hear it across society: in the rampant gender wars, our pervasive dysphorias, the immigrant’s plight, and the perpetual segregation of our people. I hear it in the church—questions of vocation and purpose and roles. It’s everywhere.

Who am I? Who are you? How are we meant to live?

It seems to me so striking that our never-fully-answered howl goes up before a God who names himself simply, “I am.”

He alone is content with that plain statement, and does not wriggle under his own self-examination. He needs no qualifiers, no sentence-finishers. His name itself is complete. We get from two words a picture of God as content, confident, and wholly enough. He is not grasping, as we are, or ashamed, boastful or fractured. He just is.

God is so very different from us. We hate ourselves, compare ourselves, puff up, put down, distort, wear masks, deceive, exclude, reject, divide. Almost all of our national dysfunctions come down to our discontented, broken identity. Who are we? We have no idea.

I love that throughout the Bible God’s people identify themselves as “sojourners.” They are the wandering ones, far from home, but heading, always, to Zion. They’re quick on their feet, ready at a moment’s notice to pack it in and head out. They are the original RVers. Here are a people who might as well name themselves “Homesick,” whose primary attributes include longing and waiting. GoRVingLogo_11_203x153-2

They know: it is easier to cling to God when your hands are empty. It’s easier to be rich in love when you’re poor in spirit. It’s easier to resist the quicksand prejudices of culture when this world is not your home. They hold loosely; they travel light. And God, for His part, sojourns with them.

As Jen Pollock Michel points out, God’s first home among His people was not temple, but tabernacle. Think of it—God living in a Coleman tent. He gifts His people with His presence, a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night—and with them, He hits the road. He’s not afraid of wilderness; in fact, He almost seems to prefer it. (As any camper can tell you, in the wilderness you can really see the stars.)

Maybe the sojourner identity is the one great solution to our culture’s many woes. I am not, after all, Queen of the Castle. I am Child of the King. (And just like that, there go pettiness, scorn, self-centeredness and pride.)

I am Not Home Yet, therefore, I do not have more rights than you. (There go nativism, suspicion, hostility, and flotillas of homeless refugees.)

I am not Defined by my Past; I am Defined by my Father. Therefore, I don’t have to grovel like a worm, I can relax as Beloved. On the other hand, I am not In Search of a New and Better Self. I am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. (And now we’re whole.)

Listen to the people around you speak. Do you hear that same tune piping over the loudspeaker of someone’s fractured heart?

“I’m the black sheep of my family.”

“I’m trying to find myself.”

“I just don’t fit anywhere.”

And then listen to David.

You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

 My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!

How vast is the sum of them!

 Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you….

Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

—Psalm 139

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Homesick, Part 1


Well, I’ve written a book, y’all!  Over the next few weeks I am going to post a few excerpts, so stay tuned.  Comment like crazy, the more the merrier!  Here goes…

I have felt it since I was a child. I do not belong here. I am an alien, a sojourner. This place is foreign to me, and though sometimes it reminds me of home, more often it is slightly toxic. I am ET, breathing strange fumes. I need to phone home.

But here I am, here we all are, stranded on this hostile planet, waiting. Longing. Maybe you feel it, too. Maybe, stuck in traffic, you realize that you feel equally stuck in life. Alone, maybe, or just out of place. The things you’ve given your life to don’t seem to amount to much. You can’t remember how you spent yesterday, or what it was you wanted to be doing at this age. Maybe what you’ve waited for your whole life has never come to pass, or when it did, it wasn’t what you expected. Maybe your life has been one heartbreak after another, or maybe, if you’ve had a happy life, you live with a vague fear that it just won’t last. Although the waiting seems interminable, there are reminders that in truth, our lives are short. A healthy older man, chopping trees one day, struck down with cancer the next. A young mother, collapsed on the cold tile floor after a spider bite. A baby, slipped away during the night in his sleep.

In one of the most-quoted passages of one of the most-performed plays of all time, William Shakespeare said it this way:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

It is a howl, frustration and sorrow and loss and fear — what is the meaning of life? I’ll tell you — life is a tale told by an idiot! Life is meaningless! Life is too, too short.

Ah, but with Christ, everything has changed. Out of disorder, he teases beauty, out of tragedy, he orchestrates grace. The waiting is charged with purpose, urgency, even. Time is short. The song is growing louder. We are going home.

In the meantime, we are undeniably stuck here. “Under the sun,” says Solomon, cynic of scripture, “life is really lousy.” As various translations put it, life is meaningless, vanity, vainglory, futility, vapor, emptiness, falsity, smoke. Under the sun there is toil and heartache and devastation and bitter, angry days on end. So how is it that Christ, unflinching, proclaims, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly”? Is he speaking of earth-bound souls? Is he mocking me?

Under the sun, Ecclesiastes said — squirreling out from under God’s hand, choosing instead the slippery, deceptive rulers and authorities, thrones and principalities of a fallen earth, well, there, “futility of futilities!” life is without purpose. It’s reminiscent of creation un-breathed upon: “formless and void,” dark. Oh, but then! The world did not remain untouched; the Word said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Light, shining on confusion, suddenly spotlights God’s sovereignty, and in a blink, chaos becomes meaningful. Delay becomes opportunity, tragedy is transformed into triumph, and along the way, snivelling, petty humans acquire the dazzling likeness of Christ.

“Patience,” says Oswald Chambers, is critical here, under the sun, where suffering seems to linger forever. It’s “more than endurance. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says–‘I cannot stand anymore.’ God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God’s hands. Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith. ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.’”

Patience I have in short supply. Perhaps that is exactly why I am asked to wait so often — how else will I learn? He stretches, I strain, the longing becomes so loud a roar in my ears that I cry out. Home! Take me home! And he will; one day, ordinary in the beginning, will by close of day be my homecoming, and looking over my shoulder I will see there is no going back.image

How do we spend the days granted us? How do we live abundantly, fully, richly, deeply satisfied before the sand in the hourglass is gone?

See eternally.

Worship wholeheartedly.

Walk purposefully.

Care passionately.

Give generously.

Hold loosely.

Love deeply.

Stand firm.

Choose light.